The team, led by Dr David Griffiths, of Oxford University, are back in Sandwick to continue their investigations into the landscape around the massive mound known as the Castle of Snusgar.
At present, the structure is visible as a three-room, split-level dwelling. Steps lead from each section, with beautifully finished stonework marking the interiors of the building. This contrasts with the rougher external work, which would indicate that, because it was to be turf-clad, a fine finish wasn’t important.
Dr Griffiths said: “We’ve had no finds later than the 12th century, which indicates that the house fell out of use, probably as the encroaching sand made the land unworkable and the inhabitants move on.”
This is backed up by radio-carbon dates from previous finds, which puts the last phase of building in the 11th century or early 12th century.
The arrival of the sand blow that led to the site being abandoned has also been confirmed by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) results of the sand overlaying the structure.
After it fell out of use as a dwelling, however, it appears that the site might have been put to use as an outbuilding — perhaps as a byre.
A large proportion of the ongoing excavation involves the collection of environmental data that is allowing the archaeologists to piece together a picture of how the landscape was used and changed.
“From the environmental results so far, we know they were using domestic midden to create an infield system round the settlement,” said Dr Griffiths. “They were cultivating oats, barley and flax.
“We’ve also got the animal bone record, which Ingrid Mainland has been working on. This shows sheep to be the main livestock, with cattle, dog, seal and small amounts of red deer. There also seems to have been some systematic exploitation of the seabirds.”
Work is continuing at the site until August 29.